Laura Garza sees potential in everyone she works with, which is why she strives to apply the latest technology and methods to maximize employee development at Praxair Inc., the Fortune 300 industrial gases company. The executive director of human resources and talent sat down with Hispanic Executive to discuss innovation in talent development and the challenges she faces in a quickly evolving work environment.
How and when was your passion for employee development formed?
In 2000, Mexico had an influx of hiring talent, and I was hired as a training professional for an operation with about five thousand employees. We had lines of people outside the facility looking for work. Every day, we conducted large-scale orientations and provided training. I realized training could help people learn more efficiently, achieve more, and succeed at what they are passionate about. We could tap into people’s full potential if we got it right, and it was this passion that started me down a career path in human resources and leadership.
When did employee development become a bigger concern for employers?
I believe learning and development is at a pivotal point right now as employee engagement, technological advancements, evolving business models, and the next generation of learners and learning channels converge.
Companies are realizing that learning and development can provide a competitive advantage by tapping into the human spirit and bringing out employees’ full potential. The speed at which technology is evolving is profoundly changing how people learn, their expectations about learning, and opportunities to learn. Advancements in things like artificial intelligence and virtual reality are driving the need for new and different skills at a more rapid pace.
All of these factors in combination provide an evolving collaborative model for getting work done and you realize that learning new skill sets and ways of thinking are required.
Laura Garza’s top three tips for creating and maintaining an engaged workforce:
Create a positive work experience. Don’t forget that you’re competing with a lot of factors.
Make company training and development tools and methods as simple and useful as the other apps employees use for personal reasons.
Make sure content is relevant and will add value to the employee. Their time is precious. Make sure they’re getting something out of the time they invest.
How does diversity factor into employee development programs?
We need to look for ways to attract and develop the potential in all talent, not only because we actually need a diverse workforce to compete but also because it helps us have more creativity, better business solutions, and to be a more inclusive company. Without diversity, we limit ourselves and only tap into part of the available talent pool. Diversity isn’t only a matter of race, gender, etc. It’s also a matter of thought processes and backgrounds.
How are you using technology to help develop future leaders?
We are taking a blended approach to learning with a flip classroom, which is an educational technology where people first learn on their own by reviewing components, asking and answering questions, and then come together to discuss a topic virtually.
Content is delivered via a mobile device, so employees can review it while they’re waiting on line at a store or listen to it in a car. And, we keep it short. Just a few years ago, people were comfortable allocating an hour or two to training. Now employees expect learning to be compressed into just a few minutes. We have been able to reach almost 20 percent of the population or over five thousand employees with this approach.
Praxair received the Silver 2016 Brandon Hall Group Excellence Award when it partnered with Skillsoft. What was the program and who was trained on it?
Praxair was looking to further its learning and development capabilities and leveraged Skillsoft’s award-winning content to help. Skillsoft collaborated with Praxair to provide employees with access to its online learning platform and content, including weekly videos and playbooks. Skillsoft’s content was an important component of the “blended program” in which participants were quizzed and polled weekly about the information during cohort calls with the executive sponsor.
The Finance Managers Program from Welch Way was one of the programs available to participants to help increase the financial knowledge and capabilities of an emerging diverse group of leaders within the organization. According to our data, 84 percent of participants applied strategies from the program to their daily leadership practices.
What are some challenges you face when developing new tech programs for employee development?
Before, it was simpler—one program, one rollout for everyone. Now it’s more segmented and tailored to address an immediate need and help people get their work done. So we create tools that allow people to do things fast—see a quick video, search, or ask a quick question.
Managerial training is always a challenge because having better managers or helping managers become coaches is a top issue in all companies. Today’s work is less mechanical and more about motivating people to do things with their minds. The challenge is managers need more training, but they are the busiest people in the world because they have two jobs. So we have to compress learning into microbites.